“But the more they afflicted them the more they multiplied and grew.”
here is a certain cost to all growth. It cannot be ours except we pay the price. He who “will not plow by reason of the cold shall beg in harvest, and have nothing,” said the writer of Proverbs. 1 Pain is a very essential part of our advance. The “growing pains” of aching limbs in early school days are only prophecies of that which is to be in all later life wherever the soul keeps the upward path. In those days, my crying before mother was because of aching knees in early boyhood in the old home among the hills; 2 the crying has not ceased, though mother is here no more, the old hills are out of sight, and the pain is no longer so much physical. I cry yet as I go. I cannot get on without painful cost. There is nothing without toil. “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” 3
The dreams of youth, where are they? How came they to go? How we cried! How the heart ached! How dark and hopeless the world looked for a time! And yet it was well that this should be. The joyous school days, how bright they were! With the end of formal education came the breaking dawn of life’s conflicts, only adding to our pain and driving the halcyon dreams of earlier study-life back into the land of memory with a heart cry. The pain of toil became ours. The loss of the past cost us tears; and yet we could not afford to exchange that to which we were brought for that which we had before. Our affliction brought us growth.
Then came the love-life, wholly eclipsing anything young life had ever known. New light came over all material things. The cloud-tinted sky, the silver thread of the streams among the hills, the charm of the moonlight, the springtide, the summer glow, the gorgeous tints of autumn, the rustle of the leaves under the feet, the jingle of sleigh-bells, the cold sheen of the frozen river just right for skating—how everything was transformed, as if in a new world! Yet no period heretofore had ever had such testing of heart as this. No set of experiences ever prepared for suffering like that which comes with love. No disappointments ever so crushed us. No success ever before so empowered us. If love is most blissful, yet its disturbance is followed by the sharpest pain. At the same time, nothing brings one into the fullness of life like love. Nothing awakens to life s realities like the union of hearts. Though the cost of the going is great, yet in its surrenders, its beginning the life for another, its cares and development of the real altruistic spirit, its life of service and sacrifice, the soul itself comes to a life so much greater than all former living that the pains of the going are small cost for so great gain. Here, also, the more the afflictions, the greater the growth.
About this time one begins to see the mission and catch the idea: the pains of youth prophesied the coming of manhood; the pains of the schoolhouse prepared the future scholar; the surrender of youth introduced the maturity of adulthood; and the pain of living prophesies immortality. The cost of giving up a desirable past is always painful. The cost of getting the “better on before” 4 is the surrender of the best in the present to the better in the future. As the vision of the immortal comes in its superior glories, the consciousness that the greater sacrifice will be demanded breaks on the conception, and again the old truth crushes down on the soul that the more the affliction, the more the advance. The truth we feared, that the way of true life is the way of the cross, is clearing in our vision and throwing its shadow across every Gethsemane we have. Connected with it is the realization that every perception of the higher pathway involves the loss of the lower. We cannot get on without cost. The travel involves the pain of going, and the cost of fare besides. The throes of the new life are at the expense of the life that now is. Sacrifice becomes the law of advance. The immortal grows on us as the mortal is made its servant. The formation of all higher spiritual ties implies the breaking of earthly ones, or their subjection to the higher ministry and service.
This only follows a natural law, and explains why there is pain in advance and growth. All change in that which we love is full of pain. When we come to surrender our Isaacs, 5 and to part with “the dearest idol we have known,” 6 we are at the high point of the test of our spirit. The hardest battle is on. The pain is intense. The Gethsemane is flooding our soul with its bitter cup. The old is contesting with the new for the victory. It is the real sweating of the heart’s blood 7 that gives the acme of pain in the soul’s affliction. But, as it was with the Master, so it must be with us. If the law of life is the cross, then the other side of our sorrow and surrender is still the cross, but the nearer side of this is Gethsemane. The bitterness of death is not always past when we think it is. Calvary lies beyond the Mount of Olives.
Another point of consideration is that we think we can reach a place of perfect satisfaction in every respect. It is a mistake. We can reach satisfaction of relationship, but not of soul advance, for we are born for the road and not for certain stations by the way. There is no other end of the journey. There is no cessation of learning. Our Jesus is unsearchable. Forever will we be finding new beauties in Him. So there is to be a sense of continued dissatisfaction: while we are sure we are God’s children, and justified, sanctified, and Spirit-possessed up to our measure, and possess this as a “satisfying portion,” 8 at the same time there is “the want to go on” in us, and the desire for more and more, so that really we possess the apparent paradox of having an unsatisfied satisfaction. This is natural, for all spiritual possession acquired, in that it is beyond what we have and is therefore nobler and better, involves a new sense of its value, and a realization of new moral obligations. So we cannot stay where we are. The awakening of the new possibilities dissatisfies us with the present, and we feel the stir of breaking camp and pushing forward.
It will ever be thus. By and by we will say with David, “It was good for me that I was afflicted.” 9 Like Israel of old, we will find out the secret of the brick-kilns and the mortar. 10 Growth in use is worth more to the Master than is toil. Not what we do, but that which we are becoming, is the object of apparent trend in life’s current, if the Divine will is consulted. Discipline leads to the larger life. Seeking to be excused from the taxing and the trying is to shun the cross. Hunting for ease and comfort is to seek for the lesser degree of glory in the future.
Coming to life’s last crossing, I can see how the inward craving is not backward, but forward. How the vistas of the glowing “is to be” perfectly eclipse that which was, and is now. The past and present are not lost to either memory or affection, but the “is to be” is so pervaded with the exceeding and eternal weight 11 of that which is just at hand, that the triumphant soul is glad to say even a painful “goodbye,” and seal in death an essential law of life, that “to die is gain.” 12 One must endure the pain of growth to have growth.
Endnotes for Affliction and Growth
1 Proverbs 20:4
3 Genesis 3:19
4 These words are the oft-repeated final line of each stanza in J. C. Trott’s poem “’Tis Better on Before,” from Trott’s book A Collection of Poems and Songs Descriptive, Sentimental & Humorous (Halifax: “Guardian” Printing Works, 1895, pages 8-10).
5 The allusion is to the story in Genesis 22.
7 Having mentioned Gethsemane two sentences before, Isaiah alludes to Luke 22:44, where the Gospel author, the physician Luke, records that while praying in Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion, Jesus “sweat as it were great drops of blood” (a condition which now bears the medical name hematohidrosis).
8 “Satisfying portion” is probably a quote from Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, a mainstay in the reference libraries of holiness preachers in Isaiah Reid’s time. In his notes on 1 Kings 21:4, Clarke writes “It is a true saying, ‘That soul in which God dwells not, has no happiness: and he who has God has a satisfying portion.’ ” Clarke also uses the phrase “satisfying portion” in his comments on Luke 16:12.
9 Psalm 119:71
10 Reid’s reference to “the brick-kilns and the mortar” presumes that his readers remember the context of his text, Exodus 1:12. After spending several generations in Egypt (Exodus 1:1-7), the Israelites were enslaved by their host nation (vv. 8-11a). Forced to “serve with rigor” in Pharaoh’s grandiose public building programs (v. 11b), their slave labor was channeled both into the production of bricks (hence the “brick-kilns”) and into the actual construction (the “mortar”), as well as a vast array of menial logistical support of “all manner of service in the field.” See Exodus 1:14. Moses’ arrival back in Egypt with God’s mandate to “let My people go” caused Pharaoh to punish the dissident sentiment by cruelly increasing the workload of the Israelite slaves, forcing them to meet their brick-production quotas and deadlines while requiring them for the first time (and without prior notice) to also supply the raw materials for production. See Exodus 5 (the entire chapter). Yet through all of this, the nation of Israel grew and even “multiplied” (v. 1:20). So the “secret of the brick-kilns and the mortar” which Reid mentions is that we can discover that even in our trials, difficulties, and conflicts, God is bringing about growth. “The more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew.”
11 The allusion is to 2 Corinthians 4:17, a verse very applicable to Reid’s topic.
12 Philippians 1:21
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